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The masters of retrofit

There aren’t many John Deere 9500 Series combines equipped like the Taylors’ of Russiaville, Indiana. Brothers Bill and Dick farm about 800 acres with their father, Lewis, and they’ve added a lot of technology the last few years.

Their combine has been retrofitted with Calmer BT chopper rolls, adjustable deck plates, a GreenStar AutoTrac assisted-steering system, AutoTrac RowSense, Headsight automatic header height control, and a TSR straw chopper. Their 12-row John Deere 7000 planter features even more modifications.

“It still has a John Deere 7000 frame,” Dick jokes. “The new planters may be built a little heavier, but with the modifications we’ve added, we have to wonder what else we’d gain if we traded.”

To date, the Taylors have replaced the old mechanical drive with a Precision Planter vacuum system and hydraulic drive, which allows variable-rate seeding.

They’ve added Ag Leader electric clutches for automatic row shutoff when combined with GPS guidance and field maps, and installed a Precision Planting Air Force down-force system for consistent depth control.

“We have several fields with railroad tracks and waterways,” Bill says. “So the row clutches paid for themselves the first year in seed savings alone. Every year after that has just been a bonus.”

Bill also uses Precision Planting SeedSense and FieldView systems to capture and display detailed planter performance information overlaid on a Google map on his Apple iPad. He can then transfer it to his office computer to evaluate yields and to make application maps.

The brothers insist they’ve embraced technology, in part, to save time and to do a better job planting and harvesting. They also admit that they simply love technology and the ability to learn more about the variables that affect yields.

“I don’t know what Mom and Dad did, but all three of us kids love technology,” Bill says. “Dick became the high school technology director. I own a telephone system, networking solutions, and LED lighting company. My sister works for Apple. My folks must be the most technology-savvy parents around.”

“In fact, Dad used the combine to cut soybeans last year,” Bill recalls. “Later, I asked if he’d used the auto steer. His comment was, ‘Oh, yeah. Auto steer works much better than Lewie steer.’ He’s embraced technology as much as we have.”

Reduce costs, cut waste

Dick insists the real benefits, though, are a reduction in input costs and the ability to get more done in their limited time.

“I don’t know that technology has had a big impact on overall yields,” he says. “But we’ve cut expenses by not wasting seed, fertilizer, and chemicals. Although, it has helped yields on the end rows because we’re not doubling up on seed.”

Now able to plant and track different hybrids, the Taylors also measure the performance of different varieties in different soil types. They often fill the planter with two different hybrids at a time, planting six rows of each across the whole field.

“We did find there was one variety that we didn’t want any more of,” Dick remembers. “In the meantime, variable-rate control lets us vary the seed rate from 32,000 to 36,000 on corn and from 130,000 to 150,000 on soybeans, so we’re not planting more or less than the soil potential can handle.”

“It’s kind of hard to justify much new equipment with only 800 acres, but we can make the most of what we have,” Bill insists. “We hope everything we’ve added will save us time and help us do a better job. Plus, we just like to play with new technology,” he concludes.

Editor's Note: Tharran Gaines is a freelance contributor for Successful Farming magazine.

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